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The Long Way Home


Hello. My name is Jeanne Jackson. I was born in New Jersey and last Sunday I sat in traffic.
So what, you say? Big deal, you say? So does everyone, you say?
No, no, no, no, no. People from New Jersey do not sit in traffic. The traffic in New Jersey is from people outside of New Jersey trying to get out. They’re heading to New York, Philadelphia or New England. They are just passing through, using New Jersey as a sort of “short cut through the neighbor’s yard” to somewhere else.
If you are sitting in traffic on the Garden State Parkway, you’ve got an out-of-state plate or you just don’t want to get to where you’re going.
Traffic jams to the Jersey shore are legendary, so much so that I have never, ever sat in one. My family turned a drive to the shore into an operation requiring more planning than D-Day. It had to be a specific place at a specific beach for which we had to leave before the sun was up. But most of the time, though, we avoided traffic by not going to the beach until it was too cold for other mere mortals to contemplate swimming in the questionable soup off the Jersey shore. It’s amazing what a breeze it is to get blanket space on Seaside Heights beaches in early October!
My father took particular pride in being the one going the opposite way of everyone else.
“Look at those idiots,” he’d laugh as we zipped along on our way to some obscure lake coated with slime that hadn’t seen any action since before “The Big One – WWII.”
The last person in my family to sit in traffic on the way to the beach was my mother when she was 5 years old and the Model T her father was driving could only hit 40 mph, barely making a breeze to offer relief to her and her five brothers and sisters in their wool bathing suits.
I might also add that New Jerseyans will drive 150 miles out of their way to avoid traffic jams. It may take twice as long and require five times the fuel, but, by god, we’re moving.
So I wasn’t my usual calm, collected, tolerant self when confronted with beach traffic coming home from Ocracoke Island, N.C., on Sunday. I’d been tricked into a false sense of security by an early set-off time and a smooth drive to the mainland. We’d be home before 2 o’clock!
Then we hit the portion of Virginia where the traffic from Virginia Beach meets up with the traffic from the North Carolina beaches. From then on we had to slow down to rubber-neck at every person who pulled over to stretch their legs or run to the bushes.
I felt my blood pressure rise every time I’d see the glow of red taillights work its way from the horizon to directly in front of me.
“That’s right, let’s all slow down to watch this guy drinking bottled water on the side of the road. We’ve never seen that before! Let’s make sure to JAM ON OUR BRAKES so we don’t miss a second of this riveting display of human thirst!”
I think I was screeching at this point. Everyone in the car got very quiet – but I notice no one offered to take the wheel.
I have a dear friend, Karen, who has commuted from her home in the Shenandoah Valley to work in Washington, D.C., since the dawn of time, or thereabouts. D.C. is known for beltway traffic (it goes without saying that no one from New Jersey works in D.C. This is a fact.) She calls me from the road sometimes just to chat, perkily asking about my day and the dogs and whatever else.
I always wondered how she did it. How could she be in such a good mood while Just? Sitting? There? When I ask she doesn’t understand – what choice does she have? She either sits there or doesn’t get home. Simple.
I am in awe.
Besides, I’m sure if she heads north through Baltimore, then across Maryland to West Virginia, she can circle around and approach her house from the west. At least she’ll be moving. . .even if she doesn’t get home until midnight.

Share  Posted by Jeanne Jackson at 10:50 AM | Permalink

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